"The whole scene was so surreal," says commercial photographer Scott Maddern, of his trips to photograph the areas torched by the North Bay fires of 2017. "Wherever you go to these places, you see a chimney and you see a car. Everything else is leveled."
More than 30 of the photographs he took will go on exhibit at the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame August 8. Art out of Ashes, with its grimly beautiful images, seeks to highlight the damage wildfires can do in California, and to remind us survivors are still struggling to recover.
The exhibition is also a direct nod to the great Bay Area photographer Richard Misrach, who famously shot haunting portraits of what was left after the Oakland Firestorm of 1991.
Driving through the recently cleared streets of Oakland and Berkeley, Misrach shot image of melted and charred fragments that implied poignant narratives beyond the frame. The large, detailed prints inspired contemplation, urging us not to forget the history. "Photographs change their meaning over time," Misrach said in a gallery talk about the series seven years ago.
That’s what inspired Bay Area businessman Russell Hyzen to come up with a similar concept for the North Bay. He contacted Maddern, and even provided lighting support as the two wandered through destroyed neighborhoods, looking for cars.